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Air Service Development study conducted for St.Maarten/St.Martin

The Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) and the Princess Juliana International Airport Operating Company N.V. (PJIAE) are engaging in an Air Service Development study for St.Maarten/St.Martin.

The study, which has taken place the last 2 weeks, is to understand how to maintain and better the recovery of air services to Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) and St. Maarten/St. Martin.

Acting Minister of TEATT, the Honorable Omar Ottley, correctly highlighted that Air Service Development is a community effort, not just an airport effort; and it is in this framework that a Whitepaper will be produced to highlight key opportunities to both enhance and build new routes of strategic interest.  Thus, by all working together, the chance of success is much higher.

This philosophy was carried through during the last weeks, and, interviews/discussions have taken place with hotels, rental/real-estate properties, events companies, Destination Management Companies, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Agencies, Tourism Boards, Port St. Maarten, and Government institutions.  All discussions have been noted, and the Whitepaper will bring such insights to the fold, and assist in grounding the ideas and suggestions.

Preliminary results were that St.Maarten/St.Martin has a great potential. Room inventory and service quality needs to be tackled on both sides of the island to grow gracefully acquiring the best economical path. Airlines have also talked about strong loads, and, high yields (average fares), which, is matched from hotels who believe the forthcoming winter season is very strong, and recovery is well under way.  Summer 2023 is with planning now, and the paper will address how both airlines and hotels can see a new vision to bring the summer period to stronger levels.  In essence to flatten the seasonality curve, and this may hold well with new market sources from Europe and South America accordingly.

For the first half of 2022 (January to July), St. Maarten served a total of nearly 725,000 passenger movements. Around 10% went through to St. Barths, highlighting how important SXM is, as a hub to support traffic; and again, strengthening the synergies of combining both islands.  How to work this better was also a key question to the stakeholders and the Whitepaper will address such accordingly.

During this first six months, American Airlines has been the highest driver of passengers to PJIA, with over 85,000.  This was followed by Jet Blue and Delta respectively.  And cities Miami and New York continue to be the key drivers.  Interestingly, Paris is now the third largest airport pair, and, such strength needs to be understood, and the paper addresses such with the stakeholders to see how such seats can support the islands tourism development strategy.

St.Maarten/St. Martin has a great offering and the vision for improving Philipsburg, Marigot and Grand Case in service districts with boutique hotels, restaurants, shopping, and promenades will add even more content to the island's product, and duly noted.  This is further backed-up with the great potential that St. Maarten has with its own national carrier, Winair, something which must be further developed and nurtured to offer an even greater experience for the travelers to get more out of their visit to St. Maarten.

There is much to be done, however, St. Maarten/St. Martin is well on its way, and we need to be reminded that many island airports and their communities are fishing/driving for that same seasonal traveler that spends over 500 dollars per day and stays on average between 5 to 7 days. For St. Maarten/St. Martin this is a chance to do it right, and, to do it with vigour that ensures the best results, hence, the purpose of this study and, the development of a Strategic Whitepaper is managed in collaboration with both the Ministry of TEATT and the French Tourism Authority.

St. Maarten (on both sides) is working hard, and we can see such in the recovery numbers. The paper will highlight a series of actions, that, may seem to be ideas which were already tried in the past, but the art is to reshuffle such, and have the opportunity to ‘cherry-pick’ those that can be actioned and implemented accordingly.

Acting Minister Ottley is pleased with the growth in visitors and expenditures from the United States, the traditional Market, as well as gateways in Europe.  “St. Maarten will also do the necessary legwork and include regional tourism.  The data shows that the Caribbean visitor expenditure is the highest and to help St. Maarten recover completely, a more targeted approach will be taken.   We have common cultural characteristics, so it’s just a natural thing to do to help our small accommodations, which are the backbone of our industry.”

The paper will be released in the beginning of Q4 of this year and will be shared with all the stakeholders.

About Princess Juliana International Airport

Princess Juliana International Airport is the second busiest airport in the Northeast Caribbean. It is the most important airport hub for Saba, St Eustatius, St Barthelemy, Anguilla, Dominica, Nevis, and Tortola. The airport is one of the largest employers on the island. It has 277 workers and 1700 workers within the entire airport community.

In 2022 the airport expects to handle 1.2 million passengers and 54.000 aircraft movements. The airport was heavily damaged in 2017 and the reconstruction works have started in September 2021 with a target date of 2 years to be completed. The contractor Ballast Nedam International Projects (BNIP) is actively seeking cooperation with local people and companies which is essential for the socio-economic recovery of Sint Maarten.

Historic Timeline

Princess Juliana Airport was officially opened by Princess Juliana in 1944. In 2006, her Majesty Queen Beatrix inaugurated the new terminal building. In 2017, the airport was hit by Hurricane Irma (Cat 5). In January 2020, Princess Juliana International Airport signed the World Bank/EIB loan to reconstruct the terminal. In July 2021, Ballast Nedam International Project signed the contract to start the reconstruction.
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